January 26, 2001 – The move, which will be formally decided at the WTO General Council meeting in Geneva on 30th January, is designed to prevent public protests at the event. The 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle ended without agreement after some of the biggest street protests in the US since the Vietnam War. The WTO plan has been slammed as outrageous by Friends of the Earth and leading human rights groups.

“We have always said that the WTO is a secretive and undemocratic institution”, said FOE Trade Campaigner Ronnie Hall today. “Now we know the lengths it will go to to avoid public scrutiny. A small, repressive Gulf state: what a perfect place to plot how to force new rules on world trade onto angry populations around the world. Politicians promoting this daft idea are sadly mistaken if they think the move will help stem the tide of popular protest, It only makes campaigners more determined”.

“Holding this meeting in Qatar would shut down any possibility of peaceful protest,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of the US group Human Rights Watch. “The WTO can’t avoid public protests by holding a meeting in a country that doesn’t allow public protest. That would send the signal that it’s okay to build the global economy on a foundation of repression — exactly the opposite of the message the WTO should be pronouncing.”

The U.S. State Department’s latest report on Qatar, published in February 2000, noted severe restrictions on freedom of assembly and association:

  • The Government severely limits freedom of assembly
  • The Government does not allow political demonstrations
  • Visual demonstrations of the failings of the WEF and globalisation, including interventions by a trio of ‘World-Eating Fatcats’.
  • The Government severely limits freedom of association.
  • The Government does not allow political parties or membership in international professional organizations critical of the Government or of any other Arab government
  • Private social, sports, trade, professional, and cultural societies must be registered with the Government. Security forces monitor the activities of such groups.

FoE Press Office: 0207 566 1657
US Human Rights Watch: Joe Stork,Washington, DC: +1 202 612 4327